Old School Americana & Nostalgia


The Space Shuttle Challenger Exploded On This Day in 1986, Claiming the Lives of 7

The Space Shuttle Challenger Exploded On This Day in 1986, Claiming the Lives of 7

On this day in 1986, the space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after launch, tragically killing all seven crew members. The tragic event shook the nation, prompting an immediate halt to the space shuttle program. The cause was the failure of both primary and secondary redundant O-ring seals in a joint in the shuttle’s right solid rocket booster, according to History.com.

During the mission in 1986, cold temperatures led to the external tank exploding shortly after takeoff. This caused the orbiter to disintegrate and the Challenger to explode.

Challenger explosion, Kennedy Space Center, Florida. (Photo by Dave Welcher/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The Challenger also carried social studies teacher Christa McAuliffe. She was selected from 10,000 applicants to be the first private citizen in space. In her application, McAuliffe committed to journaling her experience, covering her training, the flight, and her emotions upon returning to Earth.

Reportedly, McAuliffe was selected partly due to her teaching background and her ability to relate to children nationwide. Naturally, that’s why, on the day of the launch, students in schools nationwide were watching.

President Reagan Addressed the Nation the Evening of the Challenger Explosion

The annual State of the Union address for early 1986 was originally planned for the evening of the Challenger’s launch. However, following the tragedy, President Reagan decided to postpone the address by a week. On the fateful night, Reagan did address the nation, but from the familiar Oval Office instead.

During his speech, Reagan conveyed a commitment to continuing the pursuit of space exploration. He also emphasized the impact on the families of the Challenger crew and the children witnessing the flight from their classrooms or homes.

Mission Control in Houston watch helplessly as the Challenger shuttle explodes on take-off, (Photo by Space Frontiers/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

After the disaster, President Reagan appointed a special commission to investigate the Challenger explosion and develop corrective measures. The commission, led by former Secretary of State William Rogers, included former NASA astronaut Neil Armstrong and former test pilot Chuck Yeager.

The disaster was caused by the failure of an “O-ring” seal in one of the two solid-fuel rockets due to the cold temperature at launch, triggering a series of events that led to the catastrophic loss. Consequently, NASA refrained from sending astronauts into space for over two years. Meanwhile, it redesigned several features of the space shuttle.

The next mission launch occurred over two and a half years later, in September 1988, known as the “Return to Flight” mission. Lasting four days, it included 64 orbits around the planet. It ended with a successful landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California.